Author Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon is one of my favorite fictional characters; but after reading Boar Island, her latest, I’ve come to realize that perhaps Anna is fading into the background in these books. Maybe Barr has explored the character as much as she could, and now a happy Anna is simply not the compelling heroine she once was. Anna has resolved her issues with alcohol and overcome the severe depression she suffered after her young husband’s death. A happy character doesn’t necessarily make such an interesting read.

I love character-driven fiction. I recently got to thinking about fictional characters I’ve met this year that made stories so much better because of their individual quirkiness, temperament, or sense of pathos. Following is a list of such characters, in no particular order.

Lauren Oya Olamina (Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler): A young woman who through her strength of character leads a group of survivors in dystopian California to seek a better life.

Mike and Frankie Flannery (Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan): Two orphans who suffer such hardships that Mike can no longer bring himself to hope. Yet Frankie’s sweetness and optimism remain intact.

Juniper Song (the star of Steph Cha’s mysteries): A young private eye who is older than her years. Similar to early Anna Pigeon, she struggles with loss and alcohol.

Ana FaNelli (Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll): Ani’s air of sophisticated snobbishness masks a painful past.

Frey and McGray (private detectives in Oscar Muriel’s mystery series): These guys make a funny, entertaining pair, a bromance. Frey comes off as too prissy for the kind of work he does, but paired with the wild and crazy Scot, McGray, the team works.

Shirley (Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell) Though she’s in a novel, Shirley is not fictional. The character is the fascinating real-life writer, Shirley Jackson. Merrell brings her back to life with stark realism.

Antonia (My Antonia by Willa Cather): A woman who epitomizes the immigrant experience, yet she is no stereotype.



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